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Smart Leaders Don’t Just Tolerate Distributed Work; They Embrace It

Working RemotelyOne of my earliest studies of work patterns indicated that on average knowledge workers were spending only about 35 percent of their work time inside their assigned corporate facility. They were spending almost as much time working out of home offices, and the remainder in “Third Places” like coffee shops, libraries, public parks, hotels, airports, and planes, trains, and automobiles.

Today, according to Forrester Research, more than thirty-four million U.S. workers are spending one or more days a week in nontraditional work locations. That’s over 24 percent of a nonfarm workforce that currently totals approximately 140 million. Forrester predicts that by the end of 2016 the distributed workforce could reach 63 million, or over 40% of the total nonfarm workforce. And it’s worth pointing out that many agricultural workers are also highly dependent on mobile technologies, even if we don’t normally think of them as part of the “remote” workforce.

Why is workforce mobility growing so rapidly and becoming the accepted way of working in so many industries? Read more

Five Simple Rules for Making Distributed Meetings more Effective

Know The RulesMost of us today spend more time in meetings with people who are somewhere else than we do with our colleagues down the hall. And while most of the “rules” for leading face-to-face meetings also apply equally well to distributed meetings, the situation is clearly different.

In many distributed team situations the members live far away from each other and/or the central office. They may never have met in person, or they may see each other only occasionally.

When team members are not co-located, they typically have relatively independent personal lives and social-support systems. Realistically, they just don’t have a lot in common beyond their work. They go to different churches, synagogues, and mosques; they participate in different local town events; their children attend different schools and participate in different sports programs. And they just don’t bump into each other at the grocery store or on commuter trains and buses.

If you are leading a distributed team you need to take that reality into account, and to plan and lead your conference calls differently than you do when everyone is in the same room.

Here are five simple rules that will make your distributed meetings both productive and popular: Read more

Making Distributed Meetings Matter

Distributed MeetingOn the eve of IFMA’s annual World Workplace conference, which I am attending this week in Denver, it seems appropriate to think for a moment about meetings that don’t take place in a “place.” I’m thinking of course of meetings where everyone is somewhere else – what most of us call “distributed” meetings.

One distributed meeting practice I hold very dear is this [New Rule]: Do not schedule a “mixed meeting” unless there is absolutely no alternative.

A mixed meeting is one that includes two or more people in the same place plus one or more others calling in from somewhere else.

I’ve almost never seen a mixed meeting go well; some organizations actively prohibit them – if anyone is participating remotely, everyone calls in, even when some participants are located close together. Read more

How Can I Manage Them When I Can’t See Them?

Happy entrepreneur working with a phone and laptop in a coffee shop in the streetAs early as 2002 one of my earliest studies of work patterns indicated that on average knowledge workers were spending only about 35% of their work time inside their assigned corporate facility. They were spending another 30% of their time working out of home offices, and the remainder in “Third Places” like coffee shops, libraries, public parks, hotels, and airports.

Think about that: a full two-thirds of knowledge work now takes place outside of corporate facilities. That sounds like a strikingly large number, but I and many others have conducted numerous studies clearly demonstrating that organizational work today is widely dispersed across many different kinds of locations. Most of us today act as if it doesn’t matter whether the people we are in conversation with are across a desk, across the room, across town, or on another continent.

Yet one of the most common complaints I hear about letting local employees work remotely even just a day or two a week is “How can I manage them if I can’t see them?” Read more

WorkTech15 in New York is this week – I can save you $150 on the registration fee

worktechWorkTech is one of the best one-day opportunities you can find for learning the latest insights about the future of work. Phillip Ross and his Unwired Ventures team always  assemble a mind-bending and eye-opening program filled with success stories, thought leaders, and provocative insights.

Architect, industrial designer, and visionary thinker Robert Luchetti will be keynoting the annual WORKTECH15 New York City conference on May 13 & 14, Time and Life Building in Midtown Manhattan (The one-day event is May 14, preceded on the 13th by a special Master Class featuring intensive interaction).

Robert Luchetti and Phillip Stone published “Your Office is Where You Are” in the Harvard Business Review in 1985. In this seminal article, they presented their creation of and predicted the concept of “activity based working.” In his keynote presentation at WORKTECH15, Robert Luchetti will revisit their predictions and take a critical look at what they got right and wrong and present a critique of the current state of the workplace.

Read more

“Five thousand people are a whole lot smarter than five”

LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. Read more

Creating Community

The most expensive part of a workplace is the salary of the person who occupies it.

(Kevin Kampschroer, Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, General Services Administration)

Woman at desk

I am optimistic that the facilities world is gradually getting beyond purely physical measurements of workplace efficiency (eg, cost per square foot, square feet per occupant); we are in the early stages of learning to look at the relationship between workplace design and the employee experience, which is what ultimately drives organizational effectiveness.

At IFMA’s World Workplace conference in New Orleans in September I was pleased to hear David Karpook, Nancy Johnson Sanquist, and Joe Harris of Manhattan Software/Trimble discuss their research on “Workplace as Experience.” Drawing on The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, David, Nancy, and Joe educated all of us in attendance about just how powerful an impact place has on people.

And then my appreciation of how important that impact is rose several more notches when I heard Kristine Woolsey of Carrier-Johnson+Culture talk about the connection between workplaces and communities at the recent WorkTech14 summit in San Francisco. I was so impressed with Kristine’s insights that I invited her to meet and share her perspectives with my Talking About Tomorrow conversation group a few weeks later. Read more

A team is not a team is not a team

There is no such thing as “a team.”

There are big teams and little teams; there are research teams and problem-solving teams; there are fact-finding teams and product design teams. There are functional teams and cross-functional teams. There are co-located teams and distributed teams. There are departmental teams and multi-company teams.

And there are certainly many, many books, websites, thought leaders, and trainers who offer general prescriptions for building effective teams. But today we want to focus on the things that make every team and its work different from every other team.

For the last several weeks we have been exploring the value of looking at teams – and entire organizations – as living systems. We are deliberately moving away from Industrial-Age models of leadership and management, and we are seeking lessons about team effectiveness from fields like biology, zoology, and other disciplines that focus on living systems.

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The workplace IS strategic: take it from a CEO

Picture this: On the first day that a Chicago-based financial services company moved into a new – and dramatically redesigned – workplace, two employees bumped into each other in the hallway. One said to the other, “Who are you? Why are you walking around our office?” The other replied, “I work here – I’ve worked here for several years.”

They had never seen each other before, even though the company’s headquarters office is home to only about 115 employees.

Today that company – National Equity Fund (NEF), a nonprofit financial services organization that constructs deals to fund affordable housing projects across the United States – is an industry leader that enjoys low staff turnover, high productivity, and a reputation as a high-energy, compelling place to work. It’s characterized by open collaboration and a free-flowing, can-do culture.

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Wellness and Wellbeing – Part Three

This article continues the conversation that began with the first “Wellness and Wellbeing” note in late February and continued with “Wellness and Wellbeing-Part Two” last week.

Here we focus on some differences between the United States and Europe in dealing with wellness and wellbeing. If you have not read the first two parts of this series I encourage you to click on the links above and spend a few minutes catching up with the beginning of this conversation (which took place on February 6, 2014) as part of my monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” series.

Erik Jaspers [Planon]: First, I must say I was a little surprised about the short conversation about Medicare and putting that in the perspective of wellness and wellbeing. I’m from Europe, and we don’t have this conversation, and certainly not in that context.

I have a question because I’m a newcomer in this area. How would you go about measuring results or determining the effectiveness of what you’ve been trying to achieve in these types of projects? How do you measure wellness in the larger context of an organization? Read more